Stormwater code enforcement

by Joe
(Illinois USA)

Flood caused by neighbor's illegal regrading

Flood caused by neighbor's illegal regrading

Visitor Question: What happens if the municipal codes are not enforced and the violation negatively affects the surrounding property? A qualified engineer and a surveyor were hired by the affected individual to verify the problem was created due to the code violation. NOTE: The photo only shows the affected property. I was advised not to show the neighbor's property in a posted photo.

Editors Reply: The problem of drainage onto a neighboring property is a fairly common one. Municipalities that have adopted most or all of the standard international codes in effect have a municipal ordinance mandating that a property owner handle all of the drainage created on that property within their own site, without impacting neighbors.

It sounds as though this is occurring in a municipality with just such a code. In this case make sure the property owner being flooded has filed a formal complaint with the municipality, giving the address of the affected property. In most cases this complaint may be made by phone or online; often the complaint can be filed anonymously.

That should trigger a code inspector to come visit the site. In drainage cases, it is most helpful for the inspector to be able to talk with the impacted property owner receiving the drainage; usually the inspector will have questions about what the person making the complaint knows about the exact source of the drainage and whether the flooding is constant or intermittent. If the flooding is occasional, what is happening when it occurs? Is this during a heavy rain, after the heavy rain, or what else may have caused this situation?

Make sure the code inspector knows about and has a copy of the engineer's report. Most code inspectors will not be capable of nearly as sophisticated an analysis of stormwater runoff as an engineer, but the inspector often will respect an engineer's report.

Since your photo caption mentions regrading, consider carefully whether this situation may be temporary and either ease or be eliminated once vegetation regrows. We are not saying that there is no actionable code violation at the moment, but we are just trying to alert you about whether it is time urgent to get this complaint filed properly today, and to hurry along the code enforcement office if they do not visit promptly.

Further, be aware that in many U.S. states, there are state laws prohibiting activities that channel stormwater drainage onto a neighboring property. The enforcement mechanisms for these state laws vary from health department enforcement to allowing only for civil suit. A complaint to the health department may be more fruitful than to the municipal code enforcement office. Health departments are concerned about mosquitoes, rats, and possibly other hazards that standing water allows.

In many locations the health department is a county function, as opposed to a municipal function, so this may give you another avenue to pursue.

Comments for Stormwater code enforcement

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Stormwater Code Enforcement
by: Anonymous

Although the local municipality has decided not to enforce the stormwater codes, the county in which the municipality resides has contacted the municipality and discuss why the codes are not being enforced. Hence my point that the county is far more likely to enforce codes. That is why I suggested purchasing property in an unincorporated area of the county. It can avoid legal battles, court appearances and thousands of dollars in attorney fees.

Stormwater Flooding
by: Anonymous

This is in response to the original question regarding stormwater issues on personal property. You would think that the suggestions in the response have some validity, but they actually don't. Producing reports and topographies do not have to be considered by the municipality. The major issue is that no government agency has jurisdiction over a municipality, so they do not have to enforce any municipal codes. And, no elected politician wants to get involved in protecting the citizens that put them in office by making a case with the municipality to enforce the codes. But of course they still want our vote. Their generic advice is to take the matter to a court of law against those who violated the codes and hope a judge or jury can see the truth and enforce the laws to be upheld. Many people think municipalities are great, but once there is a major issue, you may be better off living in an unincorporated area of a state. If anyone is interested, check the accuracy of what was written and if anyone disagrees I'm sure many would like to hear the disagreement.

Editors Respond: We respect your opinions and experiences. In our original reply we tried to make the point that enforcement methods vary widely from place to place.

We do have to say that we have personal experience with municipal elected officials who are not at all afraid to enforce their codes. While improper drainage can be more difficult for a code inspector to document and demonstrate to a municipal judge than some other code violations, it can be done and is done every day in the U.S.

Yet we hear from a number of readers that there is no backing from elected officials when code enforcement becomes controversial. So your point is well taken.

As for the advice that people may be better off outside of a municipality, we agree that it is possible, although we think not likely. Definitely in some circumstances a county or state might do a better job, but most often code enforcement is more lax in a more rural setting than in one that is inside corporate boundaries.

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